Teachers who support children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can benefit from undertaking autism courses and autism training to facilitate engaging and inclusive classrooms.
A lack of funding for specialist autism training in mainstream schooling is a common barrier to accessing autism resources. But overcoming these obstacles is important to improve school attendance, behaviour and academic engagement in children with ASD.
Children with ASD are individuals with unique learning needs, but there are general classroom strategies that can reduce stress and help increase learning opportunities for these students.
Jesse Diggins, a school-based, child psychologist, says strategies incorporating language, environment, strengths, communication, visuals, physical, relaxation, social, and thinking tools can help teachers create an autism-friendly classroom.
- Use language that is clear, precise and concrete
- Avoid sarcasm, idioms and hypotheticals, as these may be misunderstood
- Reduce noise level and other distractions
- Keep the classroom clutter free to prevent overstimulation
- Structured and defined area in the classroom
- Designated seating with rotations each term
- Visual schedules of the day
- Defined areas for eating, reading etc
- Breakout space in the case of overstimulation
- Use the student’s special interests to encourage and extend interactions
- Engage in a special interest for a specific amount of time
- Incorporate special interests into the daily schedule
- Incorporate special interests or talents into the curriculum
- Give frequent and immediate feedback and make rules of behaviour explicit
- Check what has been understood
- Prepare for and clearly explain any changes
- Maximise Visuals
- Visuals could include the agenda for the day, where things go, and pictures of what activities should look like.
- Physical activities that quickly release emotional energy
- Break card for permission to change environment
- Walk around outside
- Slowly release emotional energy and help to calm and lower the heart rate
- Draw or paint (drawing things that make me feel angry)
- Do Lego/blocks, read a favourite book or listen to music
- Access fidget items (e.g. stress ball, stretchy toys, chew toys)
- Organise personal belongings on desk to restore order and calm
- Allow the student some time to talk about special interest/preferred topic
- Identify a person who helps you become calm
- Help others or do something for someone
- Volunteer (help classmates, students in another classroom)
- Visit animals in the school
- Thinking Tools
- Create a mantra (positive and calming statement)
- Keep an object that symbolises calm
- Create a “happy book/album” of successes, fun activities, talents and strengths – use book when upset.
How prevalent is ASD in Australia?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), an estimated 164,000 Australians, approximately 1 in 150 people, are affected by ASD.
The survey also found almost all children with ASD had some form of educational restriction with a small number unable to attend school and almost half needing specialist classes in a mainstream school.
Of the children in school, 83.7% reported experiencing difficulties, including fitting in socially (63.0%), learning difficulties (60.2%) and communication difficulties (51.1%).
Over half of young people with autism needed special tuition and 41.8% needed help from a counsellor or disability support person, while 20.7% didn’t receive any additional assistance (excluding attending a special school or special classes in a mainstream school).
More than two out of five (44.1%) children indicated they needed more support or assistance at school then they were receiving.
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